Though transportation in Japan is largely defined by the country's extensive system of super-fast shinkansen, or bullet trains, one of the best ways to see the mountain villages and less trod rural areas is by booking a ticket on one of many easily available buses in Japan. Public transportation in Japan has, since the inauguration of the first shinkansen in 1964, been largely defined by the bullet and commuter train; but for travelers spending more than two weeks in Japan, and looking to visit areas like the Japan Alps or tour Hokkaido (Japan's northernmost island), a great way to explore the far reaches of the country is to combine train or plane travel with various buses in Japan.
If you are planning to travel long distance, public transportation in Japan offers tourists and locals the option of taking a highway bus (kosoku bus). Though buses in Japan can't compete with the speed of an express train, they are usually 20 to 50 percent cheaper than the shinkansen. Japan is thoroughly covered by a network of buses, and every prefecture and larger city has at least one bus company. Remember, as with all public transportation in Japan, seat reservations are necessary on a long-distance Japan bus. Reservations can be made at major bus terminals, through travel agents, online, or, if you are traveling on one of the Japan Railways (JR) buses, at the ticket counters of JR railway stations. During holiday seasons transportation in Japan fills up quickly so reserve a seat early, but don't give up if the bus appears full, if there are any spaces left it is always possible to get a reservation on one of the buses in Japan just prior to departure.
There are three basic ticket types for bus transportation in Japan: round trip, one way and multiple. Round trip Japan bus tickets are usually 10 percent cheaper than buying two, one way Japan bus tickets. Multiple tickets are 10 percent cheaper than single tickets and usually come in packets of four or five, and are a good idea if you plan on traveling throughout the country for a month or so. And while Japan Railways owns and operates a large number of the buses in Japan, a Japan Rail Pass is not valid on most highway buses.
If venturing forth on a public bus seems a bit daunting, Japan travel also affords many opportunities for private bus tours. If you are looking forward to checking out the mountainous and beautiful Japan Alps, The Alpico Group offers daily service to Nagano Prefecture and almost all cities and towns in the Shinsu area. Another option for a guided Japan travel tour is the Orion Tour Company. This travel outfit offers discount bus fares with English Speaking guides to all the major sights on the central Honshu Island, as well as service to the ski areas of Hokkaido. Like the Alpico Group, information and reservations for the Orion Tour Company can be found online or through a travel agent.
Though trains will always dominate Japan travel, buses provide both a means to access some of the countries more remote mountainous villages, as well as a way for first time visitors to the country to familiarize themselves with the landscape at sometimes half the cost of a high speed bullet train.